I’ve taken a couple of my friends climbing for the first time recently and also had a few people ask for my advice on buying basic climbing kit. So here is my guide for those looking to buy their first few bits of climbing kit.
Most climbing walls will hire out harnesses, climbing shoes and belay devices, but if you climb quite often, you’ll soon want to buy your own. It should be possible to buy the basics for around the £100 mark, but look out for sales at climbing shops, where end of line, or last season’s gear can be picked up at a reduced rate. It’s also worth asking about student discounts, or reductions for BMC members.
Often people buy climbing shoes first, to save wearing a rented pair.
A proper climbing shoe will make climbing much easier than climbing in normal footwear. The rubber sole offers a good grip on the wall for smearing moves and the pointed toes allow you to get your foot in to small pockets that trainers just won’t fit in to. A climbing shoe is a technical fit. It should be tight enough to perform well, but not unbearably so. Some people suggest dropping half a size when buying climbing shoes, but I honestly wouldn’t bother. Remember, that you may end up wearing them for a couple of hours at a time. To get a good fit, most people will take their socks off when they wear climbing shoes – so, if you can, try them on without socks, before committing to buy them! A good starter pair of climbing shoes can be bought for £30-45 now and is well worth the investment if you want to get in to climbing regularly.
The next thing that people often buy is a chalk bag:
Chalking your hands before a climbing a route helps to keep them dry from sweat, giving them a better grip on the holds. Some walls won’t allow loose chalk, so the safest bet is to buy a chalk ball and a chalk bag with a drawstring neck closure to keep it in. Chalk bags can be clipped to your clothes/harness with a small clip (don’t use a climbing karabiner, as it would hurt to fall back on one!), but a lot of people will tie them round their waist with a length of cord. It’s not at all essential for indoors, but when moving outdoors, it’s worth using climbing rated accessory cord to tie it on. This guarantees that you have a length of cord on you that can be left behind and used as “tat” to abseil off if need be. A chalk bag and ball shouldn’t cost more then £10-15 altogether.
With a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes, you shouldn’t need to hire any more kit to go bouldering indoors. However, to roped climbing, you’ll still require a harness and belay device.
A belay device (above left) is used to put a bend in the rope and also create friction, so that a climbing fall can easily be held. There is a number of things to consider when buying a belay device: What diameter of ropes will you be using? Will you be using single, or double ropes? Will you be abseiling using it? When starting out, most people will probably buy a tubular belay device, like the Black Diamond ATC, Wild Country VC Pro, or the DMM Bug shown above. These will take both single and double ropes and will pay out rope to a lead climber fast. They do tend to get hot on long abseils, but this won’t be a problem on indoor walls. Different people prefer the way that different belay devices handle, so try several before buying. A belay device should cost around £10-15.
The belay device connects to the belay loop on a harness using a karabiner. These are strong, metal clips, rated to withstand the forces in a climbing environment. Don’t get these confused with accesory karabiners that are also sold in outdoor shops for clipping kit to rucksacks. These often have “not for climbing” written on them – quite rightly so, as they’re no where near strong enough. For belaying you’ll need to buy an HMS Screwgate karabiner. “Screwgate” refers to the way that it locks closed. The gate of the karabiner locks closed, and a thimble like piece of metal screws over it, to hopefully make sure that it doesn’t come undone. “HMS” refers to the shape of the karabiner. An HMS karabiner is big enough to hold a belay device properly. HMS (Halbmastwurf Sicherung – “half clove hitch belay” in German) karabiners are also wide enough to take an Italian Hitch. This becomes important for those venturing out on to multipitch trad climbs, as an Italian hitch can be used if the belay device gets dropped. Although not important for climbing indoors, it’s worth buying the right one in the first place. It shouldn’t cost over £10 for one. Once you’ve got one, it’s worth putting some tape on it, to mark it as your own, in case you leave it at the wall, or get it mixed up in a friend’s kit.
Try before you buy – some shops will have a rope set up for you to try hanging off even! Also, bear in mind that there are now female specific harnesses on the market now, to suit the different hip shape. A good harness can be bought for around £45. Obviously, you will also require a rope, but if you’re just starting out, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be climbing with somebody who has their own already!
Once you’ve invested in some equipment, you have no excuse not to go out and get climbing!
*The harness in the picture is back to front – it was just easy to photograph that way!